If you had the opportunity to give some advice to your 16 year old self, what would you say?
Two years ago I was pondering this question after reading an article about a book filled with such advice, and I wrote the following post on my writing blog, Free Your Pen. I stumbled across the post again recently and was blown away by my own advice. I should listen to myself more!
Anyway, here it is:
In the spirit of the feature in the Guardian last weekend on advice you would give your 16 year old self, I started to ponder what guidance I would give. What have I learnt and what mistakes have I made? Would the 16 year old me listen to the 41 year old me? Unlikely, but worth a try.
The extracts in the Guardian came from a book called Dear Me: More Letters to My 16 Year Old Self, edited by Joseph Galliano, and featured Stephen King issuing himself a dark warning, Gillian Anderson pleading with herself to be less self-absorbed, and Hugh Jackman with some nifty tips on making lists.
So, here’s mine…
I know I look like another one of those grown ups who keep telling you what to do, but I have inside information. The others think they know what’s best for you but they have no idea who you are.
You may look small. You may seem shy. But we both know you’re bigger on the inside. You’ve just got to get it out. Let the lion roar.
I know you feel unloved right now. Drawing a ginger wig on the picture of the gorilla skeleton certainly helped overcome Greg’s knife through your heart, and there’ll be plenty more of that to come. Sometimes you’ll even wield the knife yourself, so try to be kind.
But this is what I wanted to say: No matter what happens, always trust yourself. You’re right more often than you realise. Things are going to get pretty screwed up and you’re going to be ripped to pieces more than once, but you’ll come through it. You always do.
Remember when you got your first flute? You were so sure this was the instrument for you. At age 11 you knew fluting and tootling was in your bones. You opened the case and gazed at the three silver pieces of tubing, anticipation racing through your blood. You lifted out the mouthpiece, put it to your lips and blew.
And nothing. Not a single, sodding note.
You tried again.
You cried for days. But then you tried again, and again, and again.
It took a week to get a note out of that flute. You never gave up. And look at you now: five years later and you’ve just been awarded Grade 8 with distinction.
You’re going to pull the same trick again in your 20s. Your soul will speak and you will listen. Go to college and learn how to be a sound engineer, it’ll say. Your grant will be refused, you’ll have to beg for money to do it, but will that stop you? Not a chance. And you’ll graduate two years later, joint top of the class – knob twiddler extraordinaire.
Speaking to you from the future, you may be about to reinvent yourself again. This time the call is WRITE! It’s too early to say whether this gamble will pay off like all the others. All I know is it feels right, and I know you know what that feels like, so you know I can’t do anything but write, right?
Do me a favour and start writing now. Don’t leave it until you’re 33. I know you think you’ve got nothing to say and that no-one would listen to you even if you did, but on that count, you’re dead wrong. Just stop worrying about what other people think – they’re mostly thinking about themselves anyway.
Oh, and don’t worry about being the obligatory freak wherever you go. You’re going to be a writer; you’re not meant to be like everyone else.
See you soon,
P.S. take up mindfulness – it’ll save your life.